A History of Hillside Presbyterian Church

Hillside Presbyterian Church was a historic African American congregation located at 2513 North 30th Street. Founded in 1920, the church continued until 1954. It was one of Omaha’s earliest Black churches. In addition to its formal name, this church was referred to as the “Omaha Negro Presbyterian Church.”

In 1919, African American lawyer Harrison J. Pinkett lobbied the Omaha Presbytery to open a Black church in North Omaha. As a response, St. Paul Presbyterian Church was founded by Rev. Charles Taylor in 1920.

Seward Street Presbyterian Church., Rev. Russel Taylor, 2628 Charles Street, North Omaha, Nebraska.
This is a 1920 ad for Seward Street Presbyterian Church led by Rev. Russel Taylor.

Originally called Seward Street Presbyterian Church, the congregation changed its name to St. Paul soon after it opened.

Rev. Russel Taylor (1871-1933) circa 1900
This is Rev. Russel Taylor (1871-1933) circa 1900.

Rev. Taylor was a musician, composer, writer, and an ardent civil rights activist. Apparently his activism made the congregation uncomfortable though, and he was removed from the church in 1924. Soon after he left, the original church building was burned down under suspicious circumstances.

Hillside Presbyterian Church, North 30th and Ohio Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
The Hillside Presbyterian Church was located at North 30th and Ohio Streets.

Rev. Charles L. Trusty followed Rev. Taylor. In 1925, the congregation moved into the former Hillside Congregational Church at 2513 North 30th, at Ohio Street. During the time Rev. Williams was at Hillside, it developed a stellar choir and hosted a lot of musical events. The civic orchestra, traveling Christian choirs, and other groups regularly played during this era.

A Jamaican named Rev. John Simeon Williams led Hillside in the 1930s. In 1937, Rev. Williams became the leader of the Omaha Presbtry, which extended from the river to Columbus, Nebraska. He was the only Black Presbyterian minister at the time, and his congregation only had 57 members in it. However, the choir was well-respected around the Midwest.

Rev. J. E. Blackmore, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is Rev. J. E. Blackmore, minister of Hillside Presbyterian Church from 1940 to 1945. He also served as president of the Omaha NAACP for a year.

In 1940, the North Side YMCA converted the basement of the church into a gym that was run by the City of Omaha Recreation Department. Rev. J. E. Blackmore was the minister of the church until 1945. Edmund W. Gordon (1921-2016) was a missionary charged by the Omaha Presbytry to serve as a missionary at the church after Blackmore. After Gordon’s service in North Omaha, he went on to lead a larger congregation in central Omaha, then became a very influential psychology professor, researcher, and author.

In 1947, the church’s original building burnt down, and Hillside began meeting in other church buildings the following month. In 1950 the church secured a building permit at 2852 Miami Street, on the northwest corner of North 28th and Miami. Whitney Young, leader of the Omaha Urban League, spoke here a few times.

Hillside Presbyterian Church, N. 28th and Miami Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is an architectural drawing of the second home to Hillside Presbyterian Church, located at N 28th and Miami Streets.

Then in April 1954, the congregation folded. With little fanfare, the building was sold to the North Side YWCA, which dedicated the building in January 1955. They held programming there into the 1960s, when the North Side YWCA was merged with the Omaha YWCA.

Rev. Charles Tyler

In 1957, the all-white Bethany Presbyterian Church at North 20th and Willis Street merged with Hillside. Bethany was Omaha’s first German Presbyterian church, and was founded in 1881. Its building was located at 20th and Willis Streets, and when the congregation diminished in size and the building was in terrible shape, the Omaha Presbytery merged them with Hillside.

The conjoined congregation took over the former North Presbyterian Church at North 24th and Wirt Streets to become Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church. Celebrated as an integrated congregation, the church membership became all African American within a decade. Rev. Charles Tyler, who led Hillside, became minister of the new congregation and stayed with it for several years afterwards.

Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church closed in the early 1990s. The second Hillside Presbyterian Church building stands today, and is home to a congregation called Thine Will Church of God in Christ.

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Bonus Pics

This June 1959 JET magazine article featured Rev. Charles E. Tyler of the Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church, formerly of Hillside Presbyterian Church.
This June 1959 JET magazine article featured Rev. Charles E. Tyler of the Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church, formerly of Hillside Presbyterian Church.

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